Releases > Releases August 2023

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At Our Leisure
Racket Records, RR016, 17 Tracks, 61 Minutes
Two sons of the Diaspora, Carty was raised in London and is now living back home in Boyle; McGoldrick is the major scion of Manchester’s music elite. The pair has joined together to make one of the most relaxed and complete albums of Irish music since the lockdown. This album is part of the 25-year celebrations of John Carty’s Racket Records label, and like everything from this stable this album is a thoroughbred.
The album’s guest musicians are Mike McCague and Jonas Fromseier on bouzoukis, with guitar backing from Jonas and Matt Griffin. The main melodic focus comes from John Carty who excels on fiddle, flute and banjo, whilst Mike McGoldrick is equally accomplished on flutes, whistle and uillean pipes. Their leisurely pace is established from the first track Waverly / Ríl Máirtín Sheamuis. The leading tune here is old-time American mountain music, it sounds as ancient as the hills, but from all accounts it’s a recent composition. The Waverly in question isn’t the famous Clyde steamer but a brand of American crisps. They reprise that rhythm on Gypsy Princess, banjo and whistle this time out, with the whistle mixed behind the banjo.
Elsewhere there are what might be called standard numbers: Kelly’s Grove / Lilt of the Landscape, Chief O’Neil’s / Plains of Boyle / Humours of Westport /Star of Munster. All done with a dash of panache and at a pace that would allow you to busk along and get a deep feeling for the contours of each tune’s territory. They slow things down on banjo and pipes with that famous Upper Church song melody, Ned of the Hill. John puts down the banjo and takes up the fiddle on the selection Lucy Campbell’s /The Gold Ring, McGoldricks’s drones anchoring the free flowing tune as it shifts to a fast version of the Gold Ring, shades of Kevin Burke style fiddle on the closing bars too, delicious.
The feast ends with a very tasty set of tunes, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, The Boyne Hunt and the Sandymount. You’d have to travel many miles to find anything as good as this, one for the all-time classics list.
Seán Laffey

Half Way There
Traditional Music on the Uilleann Pipes
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 61 Minutes
You may know Simon from his uilleann pipe teaching, he features on the NPU website. Then again you may have seen him playing with Cara in Germany and 3 On the Bund in Ireland. Simon is a graduate of the Irish World Academy of Music at the University of Limerick, achieving first class honours in the BA programme there.
This album as the title suggests is one half of a double CD. The other called Another Way to Go sees Simon playing classical music on the pipes. Both albums were part funded by the Bavarian government’s Jung Kunst unde Neue Wege programme. I’ll give you a taste of the traditional CD here.
Simon begins with Upstairs in A Tent, which pairs the tune with Lilies in the Field, backed by Seán Kelliher on guitar. This tune sizzles with a wild youthful burst of energy. In contrast he’s lyrical and relaxed on the jigs Trip to Athlone/House in the Glen, a set he had from the Cork piper Máire Ní Ghráda. There is some bright chanter work on a set of Mazurkas: Johnny Doherty’s and The Walking stick, the latter a composition of Tommy Peoples, the backing here is from Lucia Wagner on piano. Simon steps away from Irish tunes on track 9 in a set called Bagpipers, where he treats us to some ancient English music, the eponymous track dating back to 1799 followed by Lord Hill’s Quickstep which is from the Richard Hughes Manuscript of 1823. Laments is a soulful pair of Carolan slow airs: Lament for Eoghan Ruadh O’Neill and the march time Lord Galway’s Lament.
If you were to try and locate the album’s geographic centre then I suggest you stick a pushpin into the map around Ennis. Simon cites Clare influences such as Blackie O’Connell and Siobhan Peoples and admits to playing sessions every Friday afternoon in the County Clare Capital. Time well spent I reckon.  It might be labelled as half an album but this is a glass and a half of piping!
Seán Laffey

Gael Linn, 12 Tracks, 38 Minutes
Talented young singers and musicians are legion in Ireland. (Just like here in Brittany). Older renowned musicians have on several occasions taken an interest in the rising stars of the tradition by training them, such as Dónal Lunny did with the Ciorras collective a dozen years ago. This time it’s harpist and sean-nós singer Síle Denvir, accompanied by fiddler Colm Mac Con Iomaire, who have set about bringing together eight young singers and musicians from Ireland’s four provinces, under the name Bláth na hÓige (the flower of youth).
Under the leadership of Síle and Colm, this young group showcases their multiple talents, since as well as singing, most of them play one or more instruments. From Donegal, Cathal Ó Curráin (vocals, bouzouki and fiddle) and Megan Nic Ruairí (vocals and piano). From Connemara, siblings Séamus and Caoimhe Ó Flatharta (harp, low whistle, bodhrán and fiddle). From the Dingle peninsula in Kerry, Méabh Ní Bheaglaoich (vocals, accordion and bouzouki). From County Armagh, Piaras Ó Lorcáin (vocals, bouzouki and bodhrán). And from County Meath, sisters Máire and Étáin Ní Churraoin (vocals).
As up-and-coming youngsters in the sean-nós tradition, they have found this project to be an exhilarating adventure and a memorable landmark in their musical experience. You can now hear  these youngsters perform as the Gael Linn label has teamed up with Aniar TV and TG4.
After spending a week together in a studio at An Spidéal, they recorded this magnificent album. Then it was a concert in Dublin last January that consecrated their meeting and their musical experiences within Bláth na hÓige. The result of all this collective work is an absolutely fantastic album, in which these young people demonstrate an incredible talent.
Sean-nós is an integral part of Ireland’s cultural heritage. This tradition is at the very heart of the Gaelic psyche. This then is an exciting new musical collaboration featuring some of Ireland’s finest young singers. Please note, however, that the album is only available in digital format. You can watch and listen to the seven programmes that crowned this meeting on the TG4 website.
Philippe Cousin

Stockfish Records SFR 357,4105.2, 15 Tracks, 59 Minutes
Hugely talented guitarist and multi-instrumentalist from Hamburg, Jens Kommnick redefines the idea of solo album here, playing ten or a dozen different instruments to create rich arrangements of his own compositions with a smattering of other pieces from the folk canon.
Totally instrumental, and guitar-led, Stringed is nevertheless a varied and engaging collection from start to finish. The poignant Empty House is followed by the happy sparky Christophs Tanz, and every track reveals a new aspect of Kommnick’s music. Among many Irish connections here, the airs Born an Angel and Lights on the Ocean deserve special mention: the former recognises the vital work of Dublin’s Rotunda Maternity Hospital, and the latter inspired Charlie McGettigan to write an uplifting poem. Kommnick’s style is eclectic, drawing on many guitarists from folk and beyond. The early influence of Reinhard Mey is acknowledged in the detailed sleeve notes and in the song air Lass nun ruhig los das Ruder.
Andy Irvine and Dick Gaughan reached Germany in the 1970s of course, and I also hear hints of Renbourn and McGlynn in this music. Perhaps the best snapshot of Stringed is the pair of Breton tunes, not a tradition which features much here, but Ton Double Fisel is a demanding old dance tune which shows technical mastery, and Jens’ own Gavotte pour Soïg is a cracking new melody with a great bass line to honour Siberil. New and old blend well, and while most of this recording is newly composed there is a timeless feel to it. Pieces by Siobhán Kennedy and Nick Wiseman-Ellis, members of North German Irish band Iontach along with Jens, mix with Kommnick compositions to provide a few livelier tracks in what is mostly a gentle collection.
Stringed ends with a ringing performance of The Morning Star, an old Irish reel and a sight often seen on the homeward journey after a gig, a fitting conclusion to a warm and personal album.
Alex Monaghan

Fiddle Tunes
Fiddlehead Records FHR013, 12 Tracks, 41 Minutes
Kicking off with a fine rendition of Winnie Chafe’s Jig, this album romps joyfully through Irish, American, French, Belgian, Swedish, Norwegian and even Icelandic tunes. Robert Alan Mackie adds virtuoso upright bass, but the rest is down to the duo of Canadians Boeur and Iredale-Gray on twin fiddles and hardangfele with a touch of guitar. Elise and Adam present a wide range of authentic fiddle styles here. Jean Blanchard’s La Coccinelle, originally written for the bagpipe, gets a proper Central French treatment, while Chinquapin Hunting has a grinding old-time feel. Toon Van Mierlo’s gentle Evening Glory is a rare moment of calm in this energetic recording. The formal acknowledgement of the indigenous people of British Columbia on the album sleeve is admirable and is becoming a feature of Canadian CD releases.
A Pacific Canada accent comes through on the Swedish polskas, and the pace and rhythm of Irish jigs and reels here remind me more of Cape Breton than Cork or Clare, but there’s a genuine passion in classics such as Martin Wynne’s Number 2 and the much talked of Rodney’s Glory. The Hardanger sound on Brureslått Rull fra Jølster and Nils og Jens og Gjeldaug is dramatic and earthy, raising the temperature with a Latin dance beat. The Icelandic modern jazz of London Út is a step into the abyss, but Boeur and Iredale-Gray emerged unscathed and ready for the big finish: a Cuz Teahan slow reel on Elise’s fiddle, the slip jig Cock and Hen with a fancy finger picked opening from Adam on guitar, and the great reel Cottage in the Grove which the sleeve notes say was written by Tommy Cohen before his death in 1974.
Fiddle Tunes is full of great moments and quality tunes - a very fine album from two names to watch.
Alex Monaghan

Fortune By Design
Own Label BWDW-01, 10 Tracks, 34 Minutes
In 2020 guitar player Brooks Williams and 5-string banjoist Dan Walsh got together in a “split screen” and played a version of Church Street Blues; the reception they got online spurred them on to making an album, which they call Fortune by Design. Brooks, a native of Georgia, USA is now living in Cambridge, UK where he is a leading exponent of Americana and roots music. It’s all here from track one, that seminal Church Street Blues with its bent notes on the banjo to Bob Dylan’s Well Well Well with its vocals enriched with reverb as the banjo picks up a stomp beat.
Paper Jam doesn’t get stuck, in fact the picking here on the guitar keeps the reams flowing. Stays the Same is a song about changing places, with a line that goes: “I get excited by a change, I can only choose what stays the same.” Then there’s shifting syncopation, ragtime style on It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.
Brooks goes back to his Statesboro roots on Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine, Dan’s banjo takes the first part of melody before they play in unison with Dan seizing the lead as the tune swings to the Lockdown break-down.
The album’s name comes from a line in the last song on the album, Tornado Smith, about the colourful Tornado Smith and the Lioness Marjorie Dare. Smith was a wall of death rider whose act included a 12-stone lioness riding in a sidecar, he also ran the White Hart Pub in Boxford Suffolk. This is fine folk Americana from a duo steeped in the music who obviously enjoy the quirky lore of their evocative musical world.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 17 Tracks, 44 Minutes /
For nearly 40 years, Gilles Le Bigot has been touring Brittany and the world with his guitar slung over his shoulder. With his instrument, he has taken part in a host of musical adventures within groups: Galorn, Kornog, Barzaz, Skolvan, or collectives such as Héritage des Celtes alongside Dan Ar Braz or Autour De La Guitare Celtique with Jean-Félix Lalanne, Soïg Siberil and Gildas Arzel. He has also played with the greatest artists of the Celtic scene: Gerry O’Connor and Lá Lugh, Dónal Lunny, Karen Matheson, Carlos Núñez… With a style recognizable by all, based on the open chord (DADGAD), he recorded two albums under his own name, Empreintes in 2002 and Empreintes #2 in 2011. But there again he was surrounded by a host of talented musicians.
This time he returns as a solo artist, offering us Bale, a superb musical ballad. On this first entirely solo album in his forty-year career, he has pulled out all the stops for a stroll through Brittany in 17 tracks and soundscapes. An absolutely magnificent album consisting of some twenty dance tunes in six suites, as well as three ballads, a march and a waltz.
One will recognize here plinns, laridés, hanter-dro, gavottes, kas a barh and rond de St-Vincent. Along the tracks, we cross several corners of Brittany, from Douarnenez, his refuge, to Bulat-Pestivien in the heart of the Plinn country, passing by the Bas Léon, Pontivy, the Dardoup country or the Vannetais.An album on which one perceives various musical atmospheres characteristic of Brittany, from Armor to Argoat. And it is also the meeting of singers such as Marcel Guilloux for the plinn, Jean-Pierre Quéré for the gavotte and Gigi Bourdin for the rond de St-Vincent.
From time to time, we can recognize tunes already present on previous recordings: Le Rosmeur on Empreintes #2Plinn Foar BuladChas’DuKastell Nevez or Kasandro with Skolvan.
Gilles Le Bigot is a talented guitarist. But he is more than that. He is a guitar player, an instrument that distils little musical treasures that you want to keep well hidden in your heart or on the contrary to share with others. Gilles is an artist who weaves a most charming musical lace. From the first to the last note, a real success.
Philippe Cousin

Plus One
Artes Records ARCD 6030, 12 Tracks, 66 Minutes
A nicely varied selection of North European folk, some Celtic, some Germanic, some Slavic. Plus One combines the talents of fiddler Walther and guitarist Treyz with several equally fine musicians: Nuala Kennedy, Kirstine Elise Pedersen, Andy Cutting, Aaron Jones, and Albin Paulus. Albin’s music is new to me, he plays German bagpipes and jaw harp, sings, and adds some impressive yodelling on one track. There’s nothing quite like a bit of yodelling to make you appreciate the rest of the album, but to be fair this is a very good example of the genre. Gudrun stretches her throat in harmony, and she provides most of the vocals on this recording: three German folksongs, Si Kahn’s Aragon Mill duetting with Nuala, and When I’m Gone by Phil Ochs where she shares lead vocals with Aaron. I really enjoyed the German tales of noble highwaymen and false lovers, lending a less contemporary feel.
The instrumental side of this album is gentler than many. Vocals and tunes are mixed on some tracks, counter-pointing the songs nicely, but there are also several instrumental numbers, which show off the world-class talents of all the performers here. Two very nice polonaises benefit from Elise’s cello and Andy’s button box. Poll Ha’Penny kicks off an Irish set with Walther on fiddle and Kennedy on flute, the liveliest selection here, incorporating two of Nuala’s hallmark catchy reels. Trip to Prague and Maybe Someday are a Covid legacy, composed by Walther for a cancelled concert, with a rather traditional Anglo-German sound. Her Brucker Fels is more central European, a dark tingly tune dramatically accompanied by Jones on bouzouki. The guitars and backing vocals of Jürgen Treyz are constantly in attendance, giving this collection a full trio sound throughout, topped and tailed by larger ensemble pieces for a very satisfying variety of musical textures.
Alex Monaghan

Little Steps
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 36 Minutes
Shane Sullivan is an experienced and acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter from Athy, Co. Kildare who is now concentrating on a solo career, having worked for many years in bands such as The Sullivan Brothers and Lowtown. He has mixed a range of influences including country, pop, rock, Irish and bluegrass to evolve his own distinctive sound. Little Steps is his debut solo offering, released in 2016 and recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, USA where he had access to a range of top session players who feature throughout and add a real touch of class to the music.
Listening to his vocals on the lively opening track I Ain’t Getting Over You, it’s easy to understand why Shane has been in such demand as a session singer – his distinctive style lifts the song and sets the tone for a very enjoyable album. He’s versatile as well, as shown on the title track, a slow reflective ballad which benefits from a beautiful arrangement – session musicians are not credited, but the production is first-class, with sensitive keyboards and fiddle underpinning the heartfelt lyric.
There’s great variety in the material, and the strength of the songwriting is such that you genuinely feel you’ve already heard the songs before, even though they are originals. Up tempo fare such as Someone Else’s Dream (enlivened by some tasty banjo and guitar) is balanced by more reflective songs like Hell Looked Down On Me, which builds from a solo piano accompaniment underpinning a plaintive vocal. When I Wake shows a rockier side to Shane, while Always is a delightful love song to close the album, again highlighting his quality vocal delivery.
Overall, an exceptional collection of songs, which held my interest throughout, enhanced by quality musicians and thoughtful arrangements, capped by Shane’s superlative singing. This is definitely worth seeking out; you won’t be disappointed.
Mark Lysaght

For Ireland
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 53 Minutes
Originally from Limerick, Kieran Byrne is a singer and guitarist who has been performing for over 20 years. Having emigrated to the UK and played in a band there, he moved back home briefly before moving to Chicago in the USA where he is now based. He grew up listening to the great balladeers such as The Dubliners, Christy Moore and The Pogues and this has given him a very solid foundation for his own style.
This is his second solo album and it consists of his most requested songs as well as his own favourites. It’s no surprise to see some very familiar titles among the twelve tracks, with some surprises as well, notably a heartfelt rendition of Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong, which is delivered with real passion and commitment, showing a personal investment in its themes. Kieran has a classic balladeer’s voice, deep and resonant, and he sticks to just his own guitar accompaniment on this recording, which gives a good impression of what he sounds like in a live performance.
For the more familiar material, he includes some strongly Republican ballads such as Kevin Barry, The H Block Song and the opener, a song about the tragic murder of Aidan McAnespie in 1988, as well as Willie and Danny, about another double killing during the Troubles. He is obviously deeply committed to the background themes of these and other songs, and this shines through on all the tracks here. He also includes more standard fare, such as the staple Spancil Hill delivered with real gusto, and an accompanied version of The Parting Glass.
Kieran has a really powerful voice and is well able to convey each song with a deep understanding of his subject matter. The production captures its raw energy perfectly, intentionally with no frills.
Mark Lysaght

To The Well for Water
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 35 Minutes
Freshly minted in May of 2023 this album of 10 original songs and one cover is a positive look on life. The songs are based on Morris’s own experiences, and coloured by her co-writing with Johnny Brady, Declan Sinnott, Cormac Neeson and Matt McGinn, and others.
She has surrounded herself with some of the country’s top recording artists: Seán Óg Graham on guitar, accordion and bouzouki, Gerard Thompson and Anthony Toner on guitar, Marie Morris and Ross Holmes (Mumford and Sons) on fiddle, Joanne Reihill and Matt McGinn on backing vocals, Rohan Young on bodhrán, Stephen Loughran and Kieran Brady on tin whistle, Ryan Beagan and Enda Scahill on banjo. The finest of company to make fine music with.
The Irish summer of 2023 was heralded in by a warm and sunny May and no better song to pair with the season than Bernadette’s Fanore. A happy veneration of the west coast of Clare, one of the last places to catch a sunset on the Wild Atlantic Way. The title track’s gentle piano frames Bernadette’s question, “Why do I shrink when you are around me” It crystallises the feeling of being bullied and belittled, where every moment one is walking on eggshells, fearful of a disapproving word. Let Go is a rejoinder, its snare drum and high-pitched accordion settling to a continental vibe. Calling Out Your Name, with its rich bass line, is a song of faith and salvation, where prayer affirms a way back to a better life.
There’s a syncopated bluesy beat to Not Alone, helped here by a saxophone adding jazz overtones. Once again she has a positive message: “There is a light that shines when the world is dark.” There’s sunlight in her song Silver Birch, inspired by the wildlife around the shores of Lough Neagh near to her home of Derrytrasna. She sees hope in the animal spirits of Madradh Rua and Fiadh Rua, the Red Fox and the Red Deer. The one track that isn’t an original is John O Dreams, Bill Caddick’s call to let sleep clear our lives of daytime trouble. Morris sings this with passion and eloquence; like all the songs on this album we believe her art is real, it is from an authentic place.
One last uptick is her Bandcamp page where you’ll not only find the lyrics to her songs but the chords as well. It will help you play along and share the good vibes.
Seán Laffey

When You Weren’t Looking
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 42 Minutes
The Consequences are: Jake James: fiddle (Chicago), Lexie Boatright: concertina & harp (Baltimore), Ryan Ward: piano & piano accordion (NYC), Cara Wildman: bodhrán (Dallas).  Their Kickstarter campaign had attracted over 160 backers and raised over $8000 in the 30 days to the 16 April 2023. Their Kickstarter page is wonderfully honest about the production costs of making an album and well worth a visit if you are thinking along similar lines.
One thing that immediately stood out for me is the respect they have for the composers of traditional music; each track on the album is cross-referenced to its origin; for example Colin Farrell wrote Heidi’s Dream and Damien Mullane composed Pop Polka #1. IMRO accreditation is given too, something that should be de rigueur for any band these days.
Recorded at Stages Music Arts Recording Studio, Cockeysville, MD and mixed and mastered by Beoga’s Sean Óg Graham, you can be assured this is quality traditional music. Let’s delve into a few of the tracks, in no particular order. We head to the south of Ireland for the pairing of Beare Island / Road to Glountane, a short track of just over two and a half minutes. By way of contrast the big number at over six minutes is Robert Jordan / The Girl At Gibson’s Lodgings / Johnny I Do Miss Thee, the first tune in the selection is an O’Carolan composition, and Peter Brice composed The Girl At Gibson’s Lodgings. Lexie starts this staccato style on the concertina, building to a flowing highpoint, then shifts to a full band rendition on the second tune with the bodhrán adding a bass riff. The final tune is their take on the dance music of Sliabh Luachra and it would keep dancers on their toes for sure.
Sunday’s Well was composed by concertina player Caitlín Nic Gabhann; it’s a lyrical waltz they open on piano, then Lexie develops the tune on the concertina with long held notes gliding in to lovely little spaces between the phrases, before the full ensemble swings into action giving the piano a chance to work in some interesting chords and harmony.
Track 9 pays its dues to one of the longstanding and hardest working Irish groups in the USA, with the tune Character, a composition from Joanie Madden and the girls in an early version of Cherish the Ladies. The selection features Pop Polka #1 and the lively Ned Kelly’s, a set that would be at home any night in Scartaglen or Abbeyfeale.
Homage paid, tunes played, marks made, this is fresh music from an up-and-coming band, and if concertina music is your bag, this is a must-have album.
Seán Laffey